Bradley Wiggins can claim a record eighth Olympic medal but Great Britain’s eight-year dominance of Olympic track cycling faces a stiff challenge when competition begins at the new Rio Olympic Velodrome on 11 August.
Wiggins will compete in the men’s team pursuit and can become the first British athlete to win eight Olympic medals. He has won six track cycling medals, including three golds, and a gold medal in the road cycling time trial, but Australia, New Zealand and Denmark all bring strong pursuiting squads to Rio 2016.
Led by Wiggins and now-retired Chris Hoy, the Great Britain team emerged as track cycling’s dominant force in 2008, and have won seven gold medals at each of the past two Olympic Games. The British will be the team to beat as men and women each race for five gold medals in three sprint events (sprint, team sprint and keirin) and two endurance events (team pursuit and omnium).
The main challengers will be long-time velodrome nemesis Australia, a resurgent French sprinting programme and USA’s world champion women’s team pursuiters. In women’s team pursuit, USA, Great Britain, Canada and Australia will probably battle it out to reach the gold medal race.
In the women's omnium, London 2012 Olympic gold medallist and world champion Laura Trott of Great Britain is favoured, but Sarah Hammer, a silver medallist in both omnium and team pursuit in London, is aiming to win the USA’s first women’s track cycling gold medal.
Hammer is actually targeting two golds and said: “I’ve got world titles, world records and other victories, but I’m missing an Olympic title. The gold medal would mean so much because of all the work we’ve put into this, all the sacrifices over the years. This is my third Olympics. We’re ready to race and leave everything on the boards.”
Road cycling star Mark Cavendish continues his quest for an elusive Olympic medal in the men’s omnium. He is also listed as a Great Britain reserve in the men’s team pursuit. At Beijing 2008, he was the only British track cyclist not to win a medal, and again missed the podium at London 2012 as breakaway rider Alexandr Vinokurov of Kazakhstan won the men’s road race. Among others, two-time omnium world champion Fernando Gaviria of Colombia stands in Cavendish’s path.
Men’s sprint events should be wide open following the retirement of six-time gold medallist Hoy after London 2012. Sprint world champion Jason Kenny (GBR), Matthew Glaetzer (AUS), Eddie Dawkins (NZL), Francois Pervis (FRA) and keirin world champion Joachim Eilers (GER) are expected to lock elbows for the men's sprint, keirin and team sprint races.
Zhong Tianshi of China headlines the women's sprint events, while five-time Olympic medallist Anna Meares of Australia can win a medal in her fourth consecutive Olympic Games.
Meares is already considered one of the sport’s all-time greats but says she is determined to see off the next wave of challengers. “I feel nerves and I think that's normal,” the 11-times world champion said. “I think it reiterates to me that the Olympics are still important even after all these years.”
Germany’s Kristina Vogel, keirin world champion, will also be in the mix for medals. Vogel, 25, took gold in the team sprint event in London four years ago and will be one of the main contenders to follow.